Headfull of Change is the sophomore album from The Monte Vista and is a fusion of psychedelic garage rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s as well as alternative power pop of the 1990s. There is a strong Oasis vibe both in the phrasing and tone of the vocals as well as the melodies. There’s also some influence from more lo-fi artists such as Neutral Milk Hotel.
The two best songs on the album are “That Kind Of Life” and “Far Away.” “ That Kind Of Life” features jangle-y guitars and a Kurt Novelselic-esque bass line. The snarl in the vocal is less Kurt Cobain and more John Lennon, however, stretching out the words and biting into the “I” syllable. There’s some great changes in feel throughout the song. “Far Away” is another rocker that is one of the few songs to have harmony vocals which are a welcome addition. There are great dynamics in the instrumental section, with particularly strong energy in the solo section.
Other strong songs include “The Ballad Of John Ashcroft” which also includes some backing “oohs“ as a nice pad under the second verse, some Michael Stipe-like lyrics and a great (non-harmonized) Brian May styled guitar solo. It’s also different than many of the songs as the vocals are (at least not obviously) doubled throughout which gives the tone a bit more grit. The more “soloed vocal” is also the case in the songs “Maybe It’s Time” and “Someday In The Sky” which makes for an interesting variation.
“All In Your Mind” starts with clanging cowbell and garage rock guitars. The band transitions into 7/4 time when the chorus hits. “Dirty Breed” follows up as a psychedelic California dream complete with hand claps and more cowbell. In fact, most of the album has the cowbells, tambourines and shakers upfront in the bringing out the ‘60s vibe. “Dirty Breed” also features competing doubled guitar solos (duos?) which add to the psych factor.
The album does stall a bit with a few of the songs staying one vibe, feel or idea for most of the song. “Why You Gotta Do It Alone” is a bit repetitive, “Be Who You Are” starts out as a Magical Mystery Tour mantra mixed with the ‘90s stoner rock of Pavement, but never quite takes off. “Maybe It’s Time” adds an acoustic guitar solo over the heavy thrashing band and it’s a good idea but feels thin over what else is going on and never quite takes off. A similar idea is repeated in “Someday In The Sky” where the solo works fine but the song meanders.
The album closes on a high note, though. Headfull of Change is Big Star-like, mixing Anglophile phrasings and melodies and American garage rock. The backing vocals are strong, there’s a good slide guitar break and the phrasing of the melody over the bar line enhances the whole song.
The Monte Vista seem to shine best when they’re stepping out of their comfort zone and trying a new idea or two on each song: changes in feel, phrasings and perhaps even some editing. Even if not all the ideas land, they sound best when they take a risk.
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